In the summer of 2020, Eye Filmmuseum is presenting a major solo exhibition of work by Chantal Akerman. Akerman was one of the first film directors who made the switch to visual art. She rose to fame in the 1970s as a feminist avant-garde filmmaker, and midway through the 1990s she discovered the possibilities of the art gallery. In 1995 she created a large spatial installation on 24 monitors based on D’Est, a film she originally made as a documentary. This marked the start of her ‘second career’ within the world of visual art.
Artist(s) Chantal Akerman
Venue Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam
All images Courtesy Chantal Akerman Foundation and Marian Goodman Gallery, Paris. Photo: Studio Hans Wilschut
As a 25-year-old dropout from film academy, Chantal Akerman acquired instant fame in 1975 with Jeanne Dielman, 23, Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles. This understated, minimalist portrait of the mundane chores of a Brussels housewife and part-time prostitute was lauded as the standard bearer of feminist avant-garde cinema. In a stripped-down and anti-dramatic style – later referred to as ‘slow cinema’ – Akerman exposed the oppressive routine of a homemaker’s existence and gave a face to the secret life of countless women.
Akerman’s work is characterized by a detached approach to what looks like ‘ordinary life’, but where a profusion of violent events, memories and emotions lurk beneath the surface. Akerman, herself the child of an Auschwitz survivor, is “charging the mundane with significance”.
Around 1995 – by then Akerman was the celebrated director of classic films such as News from Home (1977), Toute une nuit (1982) and Nuit et jour (1991) – the filmmaker discovered a world outside movie theatres. Her first video installation was D’Est in 1995, in which she presented hypnotic images on 24 monitors to show how people try to survive behind the Iron Curtain in the countries of the former Eastern Bloc. Her observational images of people and landscapes lack any dialogue or narrative. This installation marked the start of a ‘second career’ within the world of visual art.
Much of Chantal Akerman’s pioneering work testifies to her avant-garde approach to the medium she employs. Features of her distinctive personal style are long shots, frontal camera positioning and wide frames, enabling her to put forward a new interpretation of time and space. Akerman’s works embody history, memories, lives that seem normal but are not. They display an “almost tactile sense of what it is like to observe from a respectful distance, the people and places they record”.
The exhibition features eight of Akerman’s film installations. In addition to D’Est, they include a.o. Woman Sitting after a Killing (2001), Tombée de nuit sur Shanghai (2007-2008) and her final work NOW (2015).